Ask the Expert

Michael OttMichael Ott, President and CEO, Polysciences, Inc.

Michael Ott is President and CEO of Polysciences, Inc., a diversified manufacturer of chemicals for the research, medical device, electronic and diagnostic markets, and a member of SOCMA’s Board of Governors. Ott began his career with specialty chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas as a Technical Sales Representative. He holds undergraduate degrees in Chemical Engineering and Accounting and was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). He also has a master’s degree in Finance, Marketing and Accounting.

Q&A

How or why did you become involved in the specialty chemical industry and how long have you been a part of the industry? In the summer of 1970, while studying chemical engineering at Purdue, I began working in the chemical industry as a co-op student at a Rohm and Haas Plant in Louisville, KY. I have always been fascinated by chemicals, and I have always wanted to have my own chemical company. After graduating from Purdue, I stayed with Rohm and Haas and worked in Philadelphia; Baltimore; Chicago; Auckland, New Zealand; and Mexico City. In 1986, I started at Polysciences, and eventually bought it from the owner in 1993.

What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing the specialty chemical industry and what solutions do you recommend for addressing them? The specialty chemical industry makes products essential to the existence of human society, so there will always be a need for the products we make. Regulations and controls from various government agencies simply make products more expensive. Responsible manufacturers put safety first, and regulatory compliance is part of that. I have always said regulatory compliance is a competitive advantage. The Industry is beset by more regulations every year, and many countries are protecting local producers with importation restrictions. There will always be challenges in running these businesses, and I recommend membership in SOCMA as an efficient way to know what issues need attention, and to help the industry address those issues.

Do you think there should be common goals within the industry? If so, what would those goals be? I think the vast majority of business owners have similar goals of making a living, having fun and providing employment for people who want jobs. There are plenty of challenges facing businesses in dealing with customers, suppliers, employees, government entities and competitors. In terms of common goals, I think everyone wants to operate safely and efficiently while remaining compliant with the law.

How would you define and measure innovation in chemistry? Innovation is an essential characteristic for a business to have longevity and the ability to grow. Ideas come from many sources, but usually it is the combination of two dissimilar things that creates a new product with desirable qualities. In the areas of business in which my company works, there are many innovations that are necessary to make products for the demanding markets that we serve. I tend to associate innovation with the growth of revenue that is in excess of inflation.

Please share a couple of personal or professional strategies you intend to pursue in 2015. Next year we are planning Lean Six Sigma projects that will expand our production capabilities. We will also begin the gradual integration of a modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system throughout our business segments, which will make information more available to managers.

What are some of the major changes you have seen in the industry since you became a part of it? I can remember climbing up a metal stairwell on the outside of a huge chimney at a Louisville plant and sticking pitot tubes into the stack to measure flow rates. All of the smells and physical stimuli that surrounded that coal-fired steam plant are now gone. This is the result of environmental, health and safety initiatives that allow processes to be more stringently contained. Communication and information have also changed greatly. I once worked with a slide rule, and there were no fax machines, cell phones or internet. Sales and customer service have changed dramatically.

What advice would you give a young person thinking about going into the specialty chemical industry? I think the specialty chemical industry is very exciting and rewarding. Providing new and valuable materials that help the general condition of society is an excellent way to have a fulfilling and financially abundant life. The world desperately needs scientifically educated people who understand how things work and how to make new things. Chemists and chemical engineers do a lot to keep things going on Earth, and they are what keep the specialty chemical industry going. 

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